Stag’s Take – Gameweek 16
The upper echelons of a number of Premier League clubs have been giving thanks over the past ten days, though not in the usual seasonal celebratory circumstances. No, they have been “placing on record their thanks” to managers as they hand them a P45 and bid them farewell after a job not-well-enough done.
Sacking season brings with it a challenging FPL dilemma as well-worn clichés of psychology clash and underlie (or undermine) our decision-making.
Should we fear a team rallying to save their embattled manager? West Ham defied the form book to inflict defeat on Chelsea in Gameweek 14 whilst arguably you could place Manchester United putting Mourinho’s Spurs to the sword on Wednesday in this category too as Ole's name echoed from the Old Trafford stands.
Whilst a manager is still in the job but has clearly lost the dressing room or a club is in an inter-manager period, will a team (in football manager parlance) “do it for the fans” or “play for pride”? You may have expected the Arsenal players to do this for Freddie Ljungberg in order to prove it was the manager, not them, that was at fault as their campaign went from bad to worse since August. They haven’t though, and deeper questions are already being asked about a squad which continues to find new disappointing lows. In the aftermath of José Mourinho’s sacking by Manchester United about twelve months ago, the exact opposite happened as OGS' reds went on a legendary careening run of victories.
"Three very quick questions, how long would you like on your contract? What would your salary like to be? And where would you like the statue?” Just like Gary Neville, we will never be able to forget the galvanising effect a fresh face and the dissipation of an old manager's storm can do to a team. A bias is deeply rooted in us which believes in a squad exacting a form of revenge on their old boss.
Of course, this ties in with the fabled new manager bounce. The brilliant FPL community member Peter Blake (@mathsafe_fpl) carried out a study in 2018 which concluded that the bounce is not a figment of our imaginations and does indeed affect FPL. Peter found that FPL defenders profit the most from the bounce whereas the fortunes of forwards and goalkeepers, and to a lesser extent midfielders, fluctuate wildly, probably turning for the better. Other studies of football as a whole have dismissed the new manager bounce as a myth whereas Alan Pardrew sees it as a nebulous form of intellectual property which can be stolen. No wonder we find the reaction to a new manager hard to predict.
All of this leads to the question… what should we do? Now that Arsenal, Watford, Everton, and Spurs (and perhaps soon West Ham) have new people on the sideline, should we trust their assets by default? Of course not, but it is a good time to speculate and take on risk relative to your rank and your aims. However, most of all, I think we need to give preference to form in the positive sense of the word – favour the sides you know to be in-form over the ones that haven’t been, but you’re hoping will be!
The form table and the stats
Sometimes in FPL, it’s easy to be over-simplistic and consider every gameweek in isolation, and it’s equally easy for a fanatic (if you’re reading this, you are one) to dig deep into stats and lose sight of the wood from the trees.
The top of the current five game form table can be disregarded – you can go week by week, day by day, headline by headline, and know that Liverpool and Leicester keep on winning. Their FPL production line is also quite clear, though the Liverpool defensive situation remains the most frustrating thing since Diego Costa’s never-ending goal rush whilst on four yellow cards back in 2016. Never forget.
In third, things get more interesting. Wolves’ run of three wins and two draws has elevated them to fifth in the league table even though they’ve scored just eight times in the last five gameweeks (7th). They rank third for shots and fifth for shots in the box, and match their xG of just over 8 in the period. In sum their attacking is just fine, but not amazing. Raúl Jiménez has been the best player at “getting in the right positions” in the period, leading the shots in the box charts over the last five games (23, next best Vardy and Pulisic on 16). Wolves’ defence kept just one clean sheet in the period but conceded on only four occasions; this has played a big role in Nuno’s men turning were draws earlier in the season into three points more frequently.
Man City are the fourth-best team by form at the moment, but their victory over Burnley looked scarily like a scene where the Terminator regenerates itself to wreak havoc after what should have been a fatal blow from Jonjo Shelvey (two goals in two games, get him on the plane, Gareth!). Apologies to deliver the sort of "football man cliché" derided earlier for analysis... but City, and especially Gabriel Jesus, looked back in their groove at Burnley in GW15 after an out-of-sorts few weeks. Over-analysing that one victory at Turf Moor is pointless; what City have suddenly regained is as-yet unquantifiable. GW16’s Manchester Derby will be a tough test for them though, so I would not rush to acquire City assets. United have been good in games where they have been pegged back and limited to counter-attacking ever since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took charge, as they showed again this week against Spurs. They are also the only side to take points off Liverpool this season.
Fifth in the form table delivers the biggest surprise. This a side with the sixth best defence in the league over the last five games, conceding on seven occasions, in spite of conceding the fourth-most shots in the box (59) and keeping just one clean sheet. xG stats suggest they could have expected to concede between 9 and 10 times in this period also. This team has nine goals (5th) from 28 efforts in the box (19th!!!), recording a shot conversion rate of 16.1%, behind just Liverpool (18.7%). This team’s top-scorer’s goals are each greeted more by a laugh than a nod of expectation, and he’s only scored four times all season. Only two other players, both defenders, have scored more than one PL goal all season. This is Steve Bruce’s statistical enigma, Newcastle United, and this side should still be targeted in FPL – the form table can lie too!
At the other end of the table, it’s no surprise that you’ll find the teams whose managers have already arrived at the job centre or who look to be on the cusp of going there. Everton (16th) have been statistically unfortunate to fall so far, yet they have been on a decline effectively since David Moyes left for Manchester United in 2013. Arsenal (17th) still appear listless under Ljungberg and inspire no confidence in an FPL manager, in spite of the wealth of talent at their disposal in the forward line. Aside from somehow beating Chelsea, West Ham (20th) can’t buy a win. Monday night’s clash between the Hammers and the Gunners will be fascinating.
Jamie Vardy (Aston Villa A)
Suddenly, the record Vardy set of scoring in 11 consecutive matches in the title winning season looks achievable. The juggernaut bids to continue at Villa Park, though the home side have kept clean sheets in three of their seven home games this term.
Sadio Mané (Bournemouth A)
If the price changes go as they are forecasted to at time of writing, Sadio Mané will be the most expensive player in FPL by the time the sun rises on Friday. Justifiably so too. Few non-penalty takers can keep up with his goalscoring this term, and even fewer again can match his overall performances. This is the player whom Lionel Messi himself voted for in the Ballon D’Or awards this season.
Like Vardy, Mané falls into the category of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. An easy pick for the captaincy.
Dele Alli (Burnley H)
The best player in José’s Spurs side, matching his goals with his underlying statistics too now that he has begun to play as (effectively) a striker.
Stag has been providing #FPL Tips since July 2015 and has been a contributor for Rotoworld.com since August 2016. He is a self-proclaimed wannabe fantasy football genius, a student, and die-hard tea enthusiast.